By Hanis Maketab
8th April 2016
IT may be news to some people, but religion and feminism are not (and should not be) diametrical concepts. However, this might be hard to believe, especially after a Malaysian university hosted a debate entitled ‘Do Muslim women need feminism?’ on Wednesday.
Funnily enough, this debate about Muslim women did not invite any actual Muslim women to speak and share their views on the topic. Instead, it had two Muslim men discuss the issue.
Perhaps a more accurate title, then, would have been, ‘Do Muslim men think Muslim women need feminism?’
After the event, one of its attendees shared her experience, posting it to her Facebook page. It didn’t take long for the post to spread – the original post has seen more than 400 reactions and up to 145 shares at the time of publishing.
In the post, Maryam Lee said that the two debaters – Muhammad Kashmiri and Asadullah Al-Andalusi – used “great fallacies” to push forward the notion that Muslim women do not need feminism.
“Women’s physique and biology were used to justify the systemic and structural oppression of women – it was hard to believe that we were in the 21st century,” she wrote.
Maryam criticized the use of Saudi Arabia as a prime example of how well women are treated in the Muslim world, since rape cases there were low – she argued that the male speakers ignored “the fact that women there get jailed for reporting rape”.
Footage of the debate in question, obtained by Asian Correspondent, shows Muhammad attempting to argue for feminism, while Asadullah was against it.
In the video featured below, during his turn to speak, Asadullah posited that while feminism has its benefits, supporting feminism and its inherent Western concepts is akin to working with the enemy. He also critiqued the four fundamental things that Western feminism wishes to bring about – education, career, health and leadership.
Speaking to Asian Correspondent, Maryam said she took issue with the fact that a Muslim woman was not given the opportunity to speak during the debate to give a woman’s perspective.
Later on, during the Q&A session, she attempted to challenge Asadullah’s arguments presented during the debate, but was prevented from doing so by the event’s organizers.
“They took the microphone away from me and asked me to not be emotional. The men were given the space to have their say, but when I wanted to say something, I was told by the organizers that we were out of time,” she said.
She also lamented the fact that not many people in the audience tried to speak up if they disagreed with Asadullah’s views, though she said that afterwards that several people approached her outside the venue and shared their dissatisfaction with what was said during the debate.
From Asadullah’s side, he explained in his own Facebook post that the debate had merely been a part of an event called “Mars vs. Venus” which did include women.
In the post, he said that although he was not a woman, that did not mean he could not discuss “the issue of whether or not Muslim women needed feminism”.
However, many commenters on that post still felt that holding a debate about Muslim women without including one was problematic.
Shamsiya Noorul Quloob wrote: “As a speaker you should have refused this ‘debate’ and nominated more educated women to speak on this topic.”
Safiya Ravat added: “[…] are you telling me that at an International Islamic University in Malaysia where there are hundreds if not thousands of capable intelligent female Muslim students and professors who could have been asked to speak… women with Masters and PhDs in Islamic studies… that there was not ONE female suitable for the job? Not even one?!”
While Tariq Maketab commented: “It speaks volumes about your perspective on female voices and empowerment when you think speaking on behalf of women is the same as letting them speak for themselves. That’s MY problem with a ‘debate’ presuming to talk about feminism without female voices and perspectives.”
Essentially, this is not to say that the two men could not share their views on whether Muslim women needed feminism, but the irony was not lost on many when women were not included in the debate.
Because when a discussion on whether Muslim women need feminism excludes Muslim women, it only highlights why they DO need it.
To sum it up, Maryam said: “Women don’t need men to tell them what to think.”